Make sure Word, OpenOffice.org Writer play well together

With a few settings tweaks and cautious formatting, you can keep from losing features when moving files between the two word processors.

The first few times I worked on Word files in the OpenOffice.org Writer program, I was satisfied if the documents opened at all. That's a long way from being able to trust the open-source app with a Word file from your boss that you need to work on and return with all functions and formatting intact. These steps won't guarantee trouble-free file transfers between Word and OOo Writer, but they'll help you prevent some of the most common conversion glitches.

Keep it simple: Word files with complex graphics, nested tables, fancy fonts and formatting, and OLE Objects belong in Word and Word only. OOo Writer uses public-domain fonts primarily, and many of the fonts in Word are proprietary. If you know you'll be moving files between the word processors regularly, use only common fonts, such as Arial, Helvetica, and Times Roman. Keep in mind, however, that fonts may share the same name and still be incompatible (Garamond is an example). You can import proprietary fonts to OOo Writer, but make sure you have licenses for them.

If a Word font isn't installed in OOo Writer, the program will substitute one of its own fonts, which can mess up your document's formatting. If you have to preserve the appearance of a file you're going to share, consider saving it as a PDF. This makes it more difficult for the recipient to work on it, of course.

Tweak OOo Writer to work with Word: Open Writer and click File > New > Text Document. Select Tools > Options, double-click Load/Save in the left pane, and choose Microsoft Office. Make sure all the options in the right window are checked. Now click VBA Properties and ensure that all these options are checked (they should be by default). OpenOffice.org apps don't support macros and other VBA scripts, but they will preserve them so that the files will retain them when they're reopened in the original Office program.

OpenOffice.org Writer's VBA Properties options
Select these options in OpenOffice.org Writer to preserve Word features the open-source word processor doesn't support.

To make Word's .doc file format the default in OOo Writer, click General under Load/Save, choose Text document as the Document type under Default file format in the right window, and choose Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP in the drop-down menu under Always save as.

OpenOffice.org Writer's default file format options
Choose Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP under 'Always save as' in OpenOffice.org Writer's default file format options.

Next, double-click OpenOffice.org Writer in the left pane, choose Compatibility, and check these options:
Use printer metrics for document formatting
Add spacing between paragraphs and tables (in current document)
Add paragraph and table spacing at tops of pages (in current document)
Do not add leading (extra space) between lines of text
Add paragraph and table spacing at bottom of table cells
Consider wrapping style when positioning objects
Expand word space on lines with manual line breaks in justified paragraphs

OpenOffice.org Writer's Compatibility settings
To ensure smooth file transfers between OpenOffice.org Writer and Microsoft Word, select these options in Writer's Compatibility settings.

Finally, click Use as Default > Yes > OK to use these settings in all new documents.

Here are a few other formatting inconsistencies to keep in mind:
Many of Writer's advanced features aren't supported in Word, such as page breaks and custom hyphenation. The last line of Writer's justified paragraphs could generate line or page breaks in Word. Writer files that use Outline Numbering may not save as Word docs, and nested tables in Writer documents don't convert to Word. Writer retains Word's character and paragraph styles fairly well, but graphics aligned in Word as characters don't convert to Writer.

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